New Delhi, Jun 30, 2020: For the last decade at least, strategic commentators have advocated that India’s continental power asymmetry with China – which uses intrusions as an instrument of coercive diplomacy and refuses to either delineate the Line of Actual Control (LAC) or settle the boundary question – can be offset by exploiting its maritime superiority against Chinese sea-going assets in the east Indian Ocean.
India has shied away from exploring this ready option in deference to the Wuhan and Mamallapuram spirit and overall, to keep the China front quiet in order to buy time to make up the power gap. New Delhi’s more recent obsession to fix Islamabad, rather than decouple it from Beijing, has left it between the devil and the deep sea.
"20%" - Percentage of world’s surface the Indian Ocean covers.
It is the ‘sea dimension’ that provides a window of diminishing opportunity, as China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is fast developing into a blue-water navy, which has already asserted its maritime superiority in South China Sea. It’s about 5 years before it shows its flag in Indian Ocean.
What Are Indian Navy’s Options In Malacca?
The Indian Ocean covers about 20 percent of the world’s surface. It is the third largest of the world’s five oceans. The Indian Ocean Rim countries together have a population estimated at 2.6 bn or 40 percent of the world’s population. 50 percent of the world’s container traffic plies across the Indian Ocean, and ports in the Indian Ocean handle about 30 percent of global trade.
Approximately 70 percent of the world’s sea-borne oil trade transits the Indian Ocean. Roughly 60 percent of oil reserves and 40 percent of gas reserves are known to be in the Indian Ocean.
In a recent address, the Chief of Naval Staff Adm Karambir Singh, responding to a question on the Indian Navy’s options in the Malacca Straits to relieve pressure on the northern land border, replied that these have been indicated to the government – and certainly not for the first time.
"30%" - Percentage of global trade handled by the ports in the Indian Ocean.
In December 2019, during the Navy Day commemoration, he said that any time, 7 to 8 Chinese warships are lurking in the Indian Ocean, adding that they are making their debut after 400 years.
The 2019 China Defence White Paper places priority on PLAN, and its budget this fiscal is more than India’s defence budget of USD 57 billion.
Admiral Singh said that China is becoming an ‘un-resident naval power’ in the Indian Ocean, where India is the first responder and preferred security partner.
"Malacca Straits " - A shallow, narrow and the shortest waterway linking the Indian Ocean with South China Sea.